;Catawba College Alumna Eva Keen of Linwood was just a small town gal who had never traveled widely until she started catching flights to rendezvous with Thomas the Tank Engine at far-flung places around the United States. And, she’ll readily admit that she’d never heard of Sir Topham Hatt nor Percy until last year when she landed a week-end job working with an event at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Now Keen, a 2005 graduate who earned her degree in information systems, is regularly earning frequent flier miles and navigating her way alone in places she’s never been before. She’s having the time of her life, but says the job that takes her traveling “sort of fell into my lap.”
“While I was a student last year, I responded to an e-mail distributed on campus where they were seeking weekend help for an event at the Transportation Museum,” she recalls. “I was hired as local help at the 2004 Day Out With Thomas. I mainly helped in the tent selling digital photos of children posing with Thomas the Tank Engine.
“Later in the spring, the guy who had hired me called to see if I would be interested in coordinating someEvents,” she continues. “I told him I was working toward graduating in May and that I couldn’t let anything stop me from that. He was very understanding and told me to just keep it in mind and then to call him after I had graduated. I did and here I am.”
Keen now works as an event coordinator for J.E. Davis Photography, taking and selling photographs of children as they pose with Thomas the Tank Engine at different Day Out With ThomasEvents held around the country. Between March and November, she’s on the road. Her typical work week begins on Wednesday when she travels to a location. On Thursday, she scouts the event site and begins to double check and set up her equipment. The Day Out With ThomasEvents normally run Friday through Sunday and that’s when Keen feels that she’s at her very best.
“Traveling to and setting up in different locations keeps me from being bored,” she says. “I like it when it’s different, when there are problems to solve. In a new place, you have to gauge how willing people are to help you and who the right person is to ask for help in getting the job done.
“Event photography is very different from leisure photography. I have to get the very best pictures in the shortest amount of time. One of our biggest goals is to get through every line at each event while still taking a quality photo of every child and family. We actually print photos onsite or put them on a CD.”
Although Keen will admit that she was not a Thomas the Tank Engine fan, she is continually wowed by what a celebrity Thomas is to kids. “One little boy came up and asked me, ‘Is Percy here?’ He was disappointed when he found out that engine was not there because it was his very favorite. At another location, a kid who was maybe 3 or 4 years old brought about a half-dozen of his pacifiers in a baggy to give to Thomas. It was like a family ritual since his older brother had done them same thing. That little boy was telling Thomas that he was now a big boy and no longer needed the pacifiers. I’ve also seen children make posters and cards for Thomas wishing him a ‘Happy Birthday’ or bring him water when they think he’s thirsty.”
Perhaps what Keen finds most amazing is just how popular Thomas is. And this year, as Thomas celebrates his 60th anniversary she sees new signs that his popularity will continue to increase. One event she worked in Union, Illinois this year drew over 11,000 people in one day. She notes the special merchandise based on characters from The Railway Series books, originally created by Reverend Wilbert V. Awdry of Great Britain, and explains that many of the earlier wooden novelty items have been retired and have become collectibles.
HIT Entertainment has the licensing rights to Thomas the Tank Engine and coordinates the 43Events where kids can ride a train with Thomas. J.E. Davis Photography, is contracted by HIT Entertainment to take and sell souvenir photographs at the different railroad museums.
Although Keen’s not working in a position directly related to her major, she’s tapping into resources that her liberal arts education helped her developed. She’s problem solving, coordinating people and supplies in new surroundings, using her people skills for negotiation and sales, and successfully marketing her company’s product. She’s traveled far from the two factory jobs she held as she worked her way through college and she’s even surer now that she “doesn’t want to be 70 years old and working in a factory.”
Keen will find herself close to home and her alma mater when she and Thomas return again to Spencer and the N.C. Transportation Museum on two upcoming weekends – September 30-October 2 and October 7-9. For more details on Day Out With Thomas in Spencer, contact the Transportation Museum at 704-636-2889.